Middlesex county cricket teams

Middlesex county cricket teams have been traced back to the 18th century but the county's involvement in cricket goes back much further than that. Given that the first definite mention of cricket anywhere in the world is dated c.1550 in Guildford, it is almost certain that the game had reached Middlesex by the 16th century. Early references to the game in London or Middlesex are often interchangeable and sometimes it is not clear if a particular team represents the city or the county.

17th century

As elsewhere in south east England, cricket became established in Middlesex during the 17th century and the earliest village matches took place before the English Civil War. It is believed that the earliest county teams were formed in the aftermath of the Restoration in 1660.

The first definite mention of cricket in London or Middlesex dates from 1680 and is recorded in Fresh Light on 18th Century Cricket by G. B. Buckley as that book's first entry. The reference "is quite unfit for publication nowadays" but contains, nevertheless, a clear reference to "the two umpires" (it is also the earliest mention of an umpire in what seems to be a cricket connection) and, as Buckley points out, the reference also strongly suggests that the double wicket form of the game was already well known in London.

18th century

The earliest known match in Middlesex took place at Lamb's Conduit Field in Holborn on 3 July 1707 involving teams from London and Croydon (see The Dawn of Cricket by H. T. Waghorn). In 1718, the first reference is found to White Conduit Fields in Islington, which later became a famous London venue. The earliest reference to a team called Middlesex is on 5 August 1729 when it played London Cricket Club "in the fields behind the Woolpack, in Islington, near Sadlers Wells, for £50 a side" (see Waghorn).

Middlesex teams occur throughout the 18th century, although for long periods the county was secondary to the London Cricket Club which played at the Artillery Ground. Middlesex always held important match status, depending on the quality of their opponents. The Middlesex teams played at various grounds throughout what is now the Greater London area. Islington and Uxbridge were often used but "home matches" were also played on Kennington Common and in Berkshire.

Middlesex was very quick to use Lord's Old Ground when it opened in 1787 for the earliest known match there was Middlesex v Essex on 31 May 1787 (Middlesex won by 93 runs). Noted Middlesex players in the 18th century included William Fennex and Thomas Lord.

The Thursday Club

In May 1795, Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) played four matches reported in S&B on p.178-180, with a fifth one in June (S&B, p.184). All five were at Lord’s. The first three were against "the Thursday Club" and the last two were against "Middlesex". Mr Haygarth makes no comment here about team names but it is evident that several players are common to both the Thursday and Middlesex teams.

Mr – Rice (5 appearances), William Barton (4), James Beeston (4), John Goldham (4), Thomas Lord senior (4), – Sylvester (4), Charles Warren (4), Harry Bridger (3) and – Wheeler (2) all played for both the Thursday and Middlesex teams. The Middlesex teams included Thomas Ray (2), Robert Turner (2) and – Graham (2); Ray also played once for MCC v Thursday. George Shepheard (3), W. Beeston (2) and – Dale (2) played only for Thursday and not for Middlesex. Half a dozen others, including recognised players like T. Shackle and R. Whitehead, played in one game each for one or other team.

What is clear from this is that these two teams are in effect one and the same. All that has happened is that the nomenclature has changed, as it so often did in Georgian times. Furthermore, all the players named above, with the single exception of Bridger who had a short career, are recognised players and so there is no doubt that the team in question was of top-class standard. The problem as so often is what to call it.

The Marylebone Thursday Club, as such, met at Lord's but had no direct connection with the MCC, except that MCC ground staff players like Ray and Sylvester might play for it as given men. The Thursday Club did have county connections with Middlesex and this is why the two are often confused. It seems that the Thursday Club was started by gentlemen cricketers of Middlesex who soon acquired the services of certain Middlesex professionals. As a result, the team was sometimes called the Middlesex XI.

The answer seems to lie in the works of Samuel Britcher, who was the MCC scorer and so he was, literally, the primary source for these early MCC games. He calls the team "Thursday Club" in the first three matches of 1795 (as does Haygarth) but then refers to "the County of Middlesex" in both the fourth and fifth games on 25 May and 26 June. Haygarth simply uses "Middlesex" for these two. Britcher refers to the "Middlesex Club" from 1796. Note that Middlesex is used by various sources in several matches before 1795.

It is now believed that the club was originally a Thursday Club in the literal sense but that it was understood from the beginning that it considered itself to be representative of Middlesex as a county. It may even have had a Middlesex birth qualification for membership, like Yorkshire CCC so famously had until recently. Very soon, they decided to call themselves the Middlesex county team and so we have here a parallel with Hambledon Club/Hampshire.

Middlesex as a county team during the late 18th and early 19th centuries played mainly against quality opposition, especially MCC. The problem re classification is that some Middlesex matches were against minor opponents like Hertfordshire.

There is a further game involving the "Marylebone Thursday Club" on 27 – 30 July 1795 which is reported in FL18. It is against the "Kennington Wednesday Club" and this is a minor match as most of the players, especially on the Kennington side, are unrecognised.

19th century

The present Middlesex County Cricket Club was informally founded on 15 December 1863 at a meeting in the London Tavern. Formal constitution took place on 2 February 1864. The creation of the club was largely through the efforts of the Walker family of Southgate, which included several notable players including the famous V. E. Walker, who in 1859 became the first player to take 10 wickets in an innings and score a century in the same match. The county club played its first important match versus Sussex at Islington on 6 & 7 June 1864.

For the history of Middlesex cricket since the foundation of the county club, see : Middlesex County Cricket Club


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